Year of the Fantasy Classic

Challenge: The Year of the Fantasy Classic
Hosted By: Lurv a la Mode
Challenge Dates: January 1 – December 31, 2012
Yes, I am late to the game!

“The first rule of Year of the Fantasy Classic is there are no rules.”
- KMont, Lurv a la Mode

How could I turn down a challenge that has no rules?

I grew up reading fantasy, but somehow I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading high fantasy in favor of urban fantasy.  So, this year I intend to get back to my roots.  I’ll be re-visiting some of the classics that I loved as a child, and reading a few that I’ve always wanted to read.  I’m keeping the definition of “Classic” very loose here – if it was around when I was in grade school, it’s fair game for me.

I’m getting a late start, and an even later start on the actual reading, but, hey, no rules, right?  Feel free to join me; we can get caught up together.

Here’s what I’m planning on reading:

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • A Wizard of Earthsea
  • The Golden Compass
  • The Last Unicorn
  • The Neverending Story
  • Alanna
  • The Blue Sword
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Ender’s Game
  • Something with dragons… maybe Anne McCaffrey?

I don’t know if I’ll get to all of them this year, and I may switch out some titles for others, we’ll see how it goes.  I also plan to blog about everything I read in the challenge, not just those that I love, though I hope to love them all :).  This month is looking a bit booked, but I’ll be starting a challenge book in May.

What are you reading?

Snow White and the Huntsman

Wow. I’d heard some buzz about this film, but after my disappointment with the Red Riding Hood movie I wasn’t getting my hopes up. After watching this preview, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this. It’s possibly the most visually stunning fairytale or fantasy trailer I’ve ever seen.  Kristen Stewart looks great (and I say that as someone who’s not a fan of the Twilight films), and Charlize is fantastic as always.

Revision Doubts, or, Who is this Boy?

I wrote this on Monday, but I got so busy that I didn’t post it until now…

My critique partners and writing partners are awesome, in part because they’re so honest.  Last Tuesday two of my my writing friends helped me to take a look at one of my characters.  He’s a main character, and I’d written the entire book without a clear picture in my mind of what he wants, deep down.  I was hoping it would come out in the text, and be there for me in revisions, which I now think it has.  But, back to Tuesday.  I described this character, and my friends told me what they thought of my description.  He’s boring and stereotypical, one said.  He doesn’t sound real, he sounds like his whole personality is based on his supernatural genetics, and he sounds like a drop-out, the other said.  They asked me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer, and I gave them a lot of answers I wasn’t sure of.  Then I went home and moped.

The next day I sat down and started to write out another character sketch.  Who did I want this boy to be?  Who was he, really, under all the random crap I wrote in my MS?  What was his core?  Was it in the text?  I wrote everything I could think of about this boy, and then went back and read my original character sketch.  I was surprised as to how similar they were, but I still wasn’t happy with who he was.  So I went back and re-read the one scene that I was sure had his true voice in it, and then I mulled.  For days.

What I’ve realized today is that somehow in the last few days I switched from mulling over who this character is to procrastinating all work on the revision.  My thoughts went from “What does he really want?” to “Is he any good?  Is any of this story any good?” to worrying that I can’t write at all.  What if I’m a fraud, and can only write scenes, but can’t string together a whole narrative?  What if my book sucks?  What if all my books suck?

Um, not so productive.

This morning I reminded myself of two things.  First, even if my book sucks, it doesn’t mean that I suck, or that I’m a horrible writer.  I’ve been told enough times that my writing is good that I’ve got no business sitting around feeling sorry for myself.  Second, of course my book sucks.  It’s a first draft and like a lot of first drafts it’s got problems.  A lot of problems.  But there’s nothing there that can’t be fixed, and I have the tools to be able to fix it.  I just need to stop sulking over what I didn’t get right the first time.

So, it’s back to revision prep for me.  I’m reviewing my plot and subplots to make sure everything that needs to be in the book is in the book, and to see what I can cut.  And I’m reviewing all my characters to see how they’re coming across on the page.  As for this particular boy, he’s still illuding me.  He doesn’t want me to know his deepest darkest fears.  But I’m going to keep working until I figure him out.

When Bad Books are Good

I love finding books that speak to me. Books that allow me to lose myself in the story, that keep me up all night reading, and when I do go to bed I can’t stop thinking about the characters. Books where the writing reminds me to just how good it can get, where the words strung together are greater than the sum of their parts. I long for these books, whether I’m searching the racks at my local used bookstore or scanning my favorite blogs for the great new books about to come out. And I always do my research before I buy anything, because I really, really hate finding a flop.

And still, sometimes I’m disappointed. Sometimes, the book is so bad I want to throw it at the wall in frustration. I used to hate books like this. Books where the main character suddenly stops acting like herself, or the setting shifts and I don’t know how the characters got there. Or the times when I spend half the book rolling my eyes at the obviousness of the plot, when the characters can’t see it. You know those books, you’ve read them too.

A couple years ago I picked up a book that was a huge bestseller with great reviews. The cover was absolutely beautiful and while I know you can’t judge the story by the picture on the front, I just knew that this book would live up to its promise. Wow, was I wrong. The characters were as flat and stiff as cold pizza. The plot was convoluted at best. The setting was almost non-existent. And I was so frustrated I just wanted to fling the book out the window and into Puget Sound. But I didn’t. Instead, I sat down and started to write.

First I wrote down everything about the book I didn’t like. Then I went back over the list and wrote about why I didn’t like those aspects of the book. I saw that sometimes I didn’t know why I disliked something so much, and found myself going back to the text and re-reading sections just to piece together what went wrong. And then I started asking the most important question for myself as a writer – HOW did it all go wrong? We all know not to write cardboard characters, but now I was really digging in and looking at what was missing. What aspect of a certain character’s personality could be tweaked/expanded on/added to make that character come to life? It can be a bit hard to see sometimes. I kept working my way through the list and when I finished I’d learned some pretty big lessons for my own writing.

I now have a list of things to watch for when I revise my work. I’ve got the big, obvious stuff on that list, but I’ve also got a lot of little nuances to make sure I’m not missing the important subtleties that make a story come alive. So now when a book takes a turn into a proverbial ditch, I don’t toss it. I smile and take out my notebook.

Book I Heart: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Back Cover Copy:
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Why I Love It:
When I first read the cover copy for Daughter of Smoke and Bone I was intrigued, and when multiple writer friends recommended it, I knew I had to read it.  It did not disappoint.  Actually, that’s a pretty massive understatement.  I adore this book.  I am in massive book crush love.

I won’t tell you much about the story, because one of the best parts of reading this book was not knowing what was going to happen next.  I don’t usually talk while I read, but I seemed to have a never-ending stream of oh-my-gods and no-ways coming out of my mouth with this book.  What I will tell you is that you can set your preconceived notions about angels and demons on the shelf.  Ditto for star-crossed lovers.  Shakespeare has nothing on Laini Taylor!  She turns all the usual conventions on their heads and tells a story that is beautiful, masterful and heartbreaking in all the right ways.

Part of the beauty of this book is Laini Taylor’s lyrical style of writing, particularly her word choice.  Each word, meaningful.  Each word thoughtfully chosen.  The book is very quotable, from the simple, “Love is an element” and “Hope makes its own magic” to longer passages, including  a great conversation about inessential penises that had me chuckling.  The world-building is also fantastic.  Taylor masterfully captures the beauty and mystique of Prague in a way that made me long to return for another visit, but it’s the other world of the story that really blew me away.  I never once felt confused about what the characters or the world looked like, and never felt overwhelmed by too much information.  The details came as they were needed and in just the right amount.

The characters and the relationships between them are also well-developed.  The story unfolds in layers, and with each layer I learned a bit more about the characters.  Each of the main characters, and some of the side characters, knows what he/she wants and goes after it, but they’re all very real, and flawed.  And as with real people, sometimes the best intentions can go terribly wrong, particularly when those intentions involve keeping secrets.  The impact of their choices is all the more poignant because it’s easy to see the love the characters feel for each other, in all its complexity.

This is the kind of book that inspires me.  It makes me want to be a better writer, and I love it all the more for it.

For an in-depth review, I recommend this one by The Book Smugglers.

Universal Pictures recently purchased the film rights.  I think Daughter of Smoke and Bone could be a fantastic movie and I really hope they make it.  And soon.